Dazzling failures

Feature The Golden Raspberry Awards pokes fun at the Oscars and will recognise the year's worst films.

A cardboard cut-out of Madonna accepts the award for Worst Actress for her performance in Swept Away, at the 2003 Razzie Awards ceremony.
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When a major movie star takes the stage to thank a Hollywood studio and her agent for casting her in the worst role of her career, one might assume it is part of a merciless parody on Saturday Night Live. But this curious acceptance speech really did happen, courtesy of Halle Berry. The Oscar-winning actress went over to what many in Hollywood would consider the dark side when she turned up in person at the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005 to accept her Worst Actress award for the film Catwoman.

The Berry incident is one of the highlights in the 29-year-old history of the Golden Raspberries, which delight in naming and shaming Hollywood's worst films of the year, and in mocking the biggest night on the film calendar, the annual Academy Awards. "The Academy thinks we are awful," says the founder, an industry veteran who goes by the name of John Wilson to protect his alternate identity as a copywriter and publicist. "We are riding on their coat-tails and at the same time satirising their event."

For maximum effect, the Razzies, as they are otherwise known, have adopted many Oscar traditions and rules. Scheduled to take place on the eve of the Oscars, The Razzies also announce their nominations a day before the Academy does. Just like the Oscars, to be eligible for a Razzie, a film has to have a minimum of a one-week general release in either New York or Los Angeles in the qualifying time frame.

This tie-in to the Academy has its drawbacks, however. "When the Oscars moved their dates back by a month, it really messed us up," says Wilson. "They have a budget of $80 million (Dh294,000). We are working with $4,000 (Dh14,690)." Wilson launched The Razzies in 1980 after attending a double bill of the Olivia Newton-John film Xanadu and the pseudo-biography of The Village People, Can't Stop the Music.

"I was so horrified that I asked for my money back," he recalls. After watching 250 films in one year while working for a film festival, he needed no further convincing. "I just couldn't believe how many of the films were awful," he says. Membership in Wilson's Golden Raspberry Awards Foundation is open to anyone who can figure out how to sign up on the home page. The group is comprised of one third industry professionals, one third publicists and journalists, and one third film fans.

Raspberry winners are selected by these 600 members, who make their initial proposals for worst film each year based on all eligible releases and then vote for the winners. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, meanwhile, whose members vote for the Oscars, is made up of a tight-knit group of vetted industry professionals who must be invited. The Mike Myers movie The Love Guru leads the Razzie pack this year with seven nominations including one for Worst Film. Other Worst Film nominees are the action film In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale from Germany's Uwe Boll; the Paris Hilton farce The Hottie and the Nottie; the ecological thriller The Happening; Disaster Movie; and the 300 parody Meet the Spartans.

Myers is also up for Worst Actor alongside Larry the Cable Guy for Witless Protection; Eddie Murphy for Meet Dave; Al Pacino for 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill; and Mark Wahlberg for The Happening and Max Payne. Contenders for Worst Actress, meanwhile, include the entire cast of The Women (Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Meg Ryan); - Cameron Diaz for What Happens in Vegas, and Paris Hilton for The Hottie and the Nottie.

"Most of these people were paid millions of dollars and turned out garbage," Wilson says. "They still have the millions. Why can't they have fun and admit it?" While the Razzies mimic several other Oscar categories, they also have some novel additions of their own, including the award for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel. The nominations this year are Star Wars: The Clone Wars; Speed Racer; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Disaster Movie; Meet the Spartans; and The Day the Earth Stood Still (or The Day the Earth Blowed Up Real Good as it has been dubbed in the nominations list).

This year's worst director contenders, meanwhile, are M Night Shyamalan for The Happening: Marco Schnabel for The Love Guru; Tom Putnam for The Hottie and the Nottie; Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer for Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie; and Uwe Boll for In the Name of the King. Hollywood doesn't often want to be in on the joke. "We always try and call representatives for the nominees and, when we know who looks likely to win, invite them," said Wilson. "We get hung up on, ignored, and I have even been fired when people figure out who I am."

Gregg Kilday, the film editor at the Los-Angeles-based trade paper The Hollywood Reporter, says that by and large, mainstream Hollywood is happy to ignore the awards. "The Razzies themselves tend to be aimed at second and third tier movies, so they don't stroke too close to home as far as the Hollywood establishment is concerned. Plus, coming in the final weekend before the Oscars, the Razzies tend to get swallowed up by all the other competing events - the Independent Spirit Awards, for example - in the walk-up to the Academy Awards," he says.

But that doesn't mean the awards don't have to power to wound egos, Kilday says. "Hollywood definitely takes itself too seriously. A lot of folks are insecure about their own positions - even if they are at or near the top, they never know how long they'll be there - so they don't have a sense of humour about themselves. Anything that isn't congratulatory, even gentle humour, is often perceived as very negative criticism."

That explains why Berry is one of only a handful of celebrities to have experienced the Razzies firsthand. Wilson thought he had made another breakthrough in 2003 with the megaflop Gigli starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. After Affleck mentioned in a press conference that he hadn't even been invited to pick up his award, a fellow Raspberry board member, who worked on Larry King Live, facilitated the presentation of the award on the show. Unfortunately, Affleck didn't believe the trophy was the real thing. It got broken and he left it behind.

It's not surprising that he thought it was a fake; they might look substantial from a distance, but the trophies are made of a studio cable container, old cardboard, a roll of Super 8 film and a golf ball sprayed gold and stuck on the top of a raspberry jam lid. Wilson puts the cost at around $5 (Dh18) per trophy. The Raspberries have developed such a cult following that Wilson was able to sell Affleck's broken trophy on eBay for enough money to finance the renting of the theatre for the next year's show.

Much of the Razzies' inspiration comes from the Oscar show itself. The Razzies delight in satirising the silliest elements of the awards ceremony at their own 90-minute event, which this year is scheduled for Saturday at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Hollywood. "One of the most awful things I miss about the Oscars is the opener," says Wilson. "We can't afford to put people on wires, but this year we are doing something from Mama Mia! in the form of a reworking of Abba's Dancing Queen as Razzie Queen. The show will start on a tacky note and go downhill from there.

"If there is a way to point out the shortcomings everyone else is too polite to say, then we say it," he says. "The Oscars are really asking for it with how self-congratulatory they have been for the past 81 years." The Raspberries may not have quite as many rules or categories as the Oscars, which they describe online as the "81st Giving Out of the Little Gold Naked Men" awards, but they do have several rules of thumb:

"If it cost a fortune and lost a fortune, if it got mostly negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you worsened your own track record and pedigree like Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a sofa then you are up for a nomination," said Wilson. "If you are Paris Hilton, for example, your 15 minutes of fame were over five years ago." Some celebrities show up in the Golden Raspberries again and again. Toping the list of most nominated worst actors are Sylvester Stallone with 30 nominations and 10 wins, and Madonna with 15 nominations and nine wins.

The all-time worst picture award is currently held by the 2007 flop I Know Who Killed Me, starring Lindsay Lohan, which won eight awards. Runners-up include the Scientology flick Battlefield Earth, The Lonely Lady, and Showgirls, which amassed 13 nominations, the most ever, and won seven awards. While the Razzies may not be welcome in mainstream Hollywood, they nearly clinched a major sponsorship deal this year until the economy took a nose dive. "We were that close," Wilson says.

Other collaborations have included the first-ever live cell phone broadcast. And some clips make it on to YouTube. Still, for the most part, the ceremony is for the enjoyment of those who attend. "Foreign reporters love our show," said Wilson. "Forget the Golden Globes. We are about as far from reverent as we can be. If there is a way to say it tastelessly, we will do it."